Facebook caves to Putin; blocks critic's pages

Repressive governments are always looking for ways to control the internet. They recognize the potential for free expression that the internet offers and are willing to go to extraordinary lengths to try and control access and content.

With the help of American companies, of course.

China maintains an iron grip on the internet thanks at least partly to Google, who obligingly bowed to the wishes of the Communist government. Now, Facebook has gone Google one better; they've actually blocked pages being used by a major critic of Vladimir Putin to spread news of demonstrations.


Russian authorities convinced Facebook to shut off a page inviting people to attend a rally in support of an opposition politician, drawing ire from Internet users Sunday.


Supporters on Friday created an event page for January 15, the day President Vladimir Putin's biggest critic Alexei Navalny will hear his verdict in a controversial embezzlement case which could see him sent him to prison for up to 10 years.

Russia's Internet watchdog Roskomnadzor said Sunday that the page has been blocked on orders of the general prosecutor.

The prosecutor "demanded to limit access to a number of resources calling for an unsanctioned mass event, including social networking groups. The demand has been fulfilled," RIA-Novosti news agency quoted spokesman Vadim Ampelonsky as saying.

The Facebook event, called "Public gathering to discuss the verdict", had over 12,000 people signed up at the time it was blocked, and now opens only through a non-Russian IP and only for non-Russian users.

Navalny, whose leadership role in the opposition was built up over the years via his popular anti-corruption blog and carefully-managed Internet campaigns, criticised the social networking giant for quickly bending under Kremlin's pressure.

"It's a rather unpleasant and surprising behaviour by Russian Facebook. I thought they would at least demand a court order rather than rush to block pages as soon as crooks from the Roskomnadzor (the Internet watchdog) ask," he wrote on his personal page.

Former US ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul wrote on his Twitter blog that the block set a "horrible precedent" and that Facebook should correct their "mistake" as soon as possible.

Should there be more to a company's operations than the drive to expand the bottom line? We're asking that question now of Sony and the theater chains that refused to screen The Interview. With the freedom to express and create whatever they wish, goes an obligation for these companies to uphold our values. Is it too much to ask that they show a little backbone in the face of this kind of bullying?

This incident points up the danger of allowing the UN to take control of the internet. President Obama's decision to allow a consortium of countries to take over many vital internet infrastructure tasks threatens not only commerce, but free expression as well.

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